George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Lincoln, 3 April 1782

War office April 3 1782

Dear General,

The enclosed papers, transmitted me by General Heath, exhibit charges against the Contractor for the post of West point—The terms of the contract prescribe the mode of trial in cases of delinquency—it is wished that your Excellency would be pleased to take the matter up, and give the necessary directions for a enquiry.

Mr Sands (who says he is conscious of having in every instance demeaned himself properly) is willing to submit an investigation of the whole business to any impartial persons, not of the army, who may be appointed for the purpose.

Mr Morris, who is the Contractor, says it could never be supposed that an issue of Salt should be made with salted provisions, nor can it be done—so that this will not come under consideration. I have the honor to be, with the most perfect esteem, My dear General, Your most obedient Servant

B. Lincoln

P.S. I do myself the pleasure to inclose several resolves of Congress.


DLC: Papers of George Washington.


Head Quarters Highlands March 1st 1782


I have just received a representation from Colonel Swift, commanding the Connecticut Line, that a Quantity of Beef has been offered to be Issued by Mr Morgan, your Issuer which is thought not merchantable agreable to Contracts and has been refused, it therefore becomes necessary that a determination be had agreable to the Rules prescribed in the Contract in Such Cases. I do therefore hereby name Ezra Lunt Esqr. a Gentleman from Massachusetts Bay, an indifferant person, on the part of the United States, and desire you to name another on the part of the Contractors, the two so chosen to elect a third, the three so Chosen, to repair to the Store kept by Mr Morgan, tomorrow at three oClock P.M. to view said disputed Beef and report thereon. I am Sorry that either you or I have this trouble, but as this is the only rule of decision prescribed by the Contract in Such cases, necessity compels the exercise of it. I am with great regard Gentlemen your most Obed. Servt

W. Heath


8-16 March 1782

Extract of a letter from major-General Heath, to Comfort Sands Esq. and Co. dated Headquarters, Highlands, March 8th 1782.

"I have received no answer from you, to mine of the 1st instant, or report from the survey which I expected would meet in consequence of my letter—I learn the latter was prevented by major Lunts not receiving my letter in season. The uneasiness of the troops, respecting the suet being taken from the beef, continues—and it is necessary the practice of taking it out be discontinued, or the dispute settled in the way prescribed by the contract. If you conclude to issue the beef with the kidneys in, as has been usual in the army, and the troops apprehend they have a right to expect, the dispute subsides—If not, please name a person on your part, I will name another on the part of the United states, that a determination may be had, and the uneasiness removed by an impartial decision."

Extract of a letter from Comfort Sands Esqr. and Co. to General Heath dated Fishkill, March 15. 1782.

"Yours of the 8th and 12th we this day received, and note what you say about the kidney being taken out of the beef—We expected after what we had said to you, nothing more would have been said about it—As to leaving it to be determined in the way you propose, we cannot agree to, as we conceive the contract doth not warrant such proceedure. One of us will soon go to mr Morris, when we will make a fair state of the matter to him—and if he directs the kidneys should be taken out, after that, the practise shall be discontinued—but depend the army will be no gainers by it, should it be so."

Extract of a letter from General Heath to Comfort Sands Esq. and Co. dated Head quarters, Highlands, March 16. 1782.

"Your favor of the 15th came to hand the last evening, I am at some loss to conceive how you could expect no more would be said on a measure which gives so much uneasiness to the army, as the taking the kidneys out of the beef has done and still does, unless the practice was discontinued, or it had been determined in that way which is prescribed by the contract. I informed the secretary at war when here of what had happened and what steps I had taken, which he approved and told me he would write you on the subject, desire you to review the matter and have an impartial decision thereon. I am constrained therefore again to call on you, as the dispute continues, for an explicit answer, whether you will or will not submit it to the decision prescribed by the contract. My situation and duty require this; nor can I compromise or postpone the matter—The practice must subside or the dispute be determined. And I think if it be your wish to consult mr Morris, the former is the only eligible mode until a determination is had."


Camp Connecticut Hutts March the 12th 1782


I must beg your Honors Pardon in troubling you again with our Complaints and Should Consider no Excuse admissable in doing it but the repeted Complaints of the officers Commanding Regts that the Contracter refuses to Supply them agreeable to Contract and that it is out of their power to obtain redress.

I inclose Lieut. Colo. Huntingtons Complaint of this date respecting the Contracters refusing to Issue Salt agreeable to Contract.

I think Mr Sands Considers himself as independant and not accountable [   ] one for his Conduct it Seems he means to Iss[ue what] Sort of Provisions he Pleases and what Quantity and no one Can obtain redress—all the attempts yet made have proved fruitless—and he Triumphs over the whole army.

I wish Sum moad may be pointed out whereby redress may be obtained when the Contracter refuses to do Justice to the Troops—otherwise I think great injustice will take Place—I have the Honor to be Sir your Honors most obdt Humle Servt

H: Swift


March 12th 82


I Consider Mr Morgans refusal to Issue salt with Salt provision a breach of the Contract, as it Specifies One Quart of Salt to every hundred Rations, beg you to take such steps as you may think proper to obtain Justice for the troops. Your Humble Servant

Eben. Huntington Lt Colo. Commd

3d Connt Regt


March 12. 1782


I Just recd your’s & Note the Contents respecting giving salt with salt Provision. I have no directions only from Mr sands he inform’d me that it was the meaning of the Contract only to give salt with fresh Provision. I am your H. Servt

Ephm Morgan



Camp Connecticut-village, March 25. 1782


I am very sorry I am under the necessity to trouble your honor again with complaints on the subject of provision. We are not only obliged to fetch all our provisions from West point—but at least half the times we go for bread we can get none—Officers have been obliged to live three days at a time without bread, with the additional trouble of sending to West point once a day to try to get it.

The detachment ordered out yesterday was detained the greatest part of the day for want of bread, and then part of them were obliged to march without any, when they had been two days without.

Another complaint is that of late we have [   ] salt beef that was tainted and altogether unfit for use—The officers apply to me for redress—but am obliged to tell them no redress can be had.

I think such treatment will soon ruin the best disciplined troops that is—And the officers insist that they cannot be answerable for the conduct of troops under such circumstances.

I have done every thing in my power to remedy those evils, but to no purpose—Therefore must pray your honor’s directions. I am, &c. &c.

Heman Swift


Camp, connecticut village Sir,March 26 1782

I received your favour of yesterday and note the contents—but am sure the remedy you mention of the quartermasters rejecting provisions that are not good and wholsome, will by Mr Sands mode of proceeding prove to be no remedy.

Instance—unwholsome provisions are offered to the quarter master, he refuses to accept them, immediately gives you notice—it will be at least three days before a survey can be had, and the troops without provisions all that time—As Mr Sands will not suffer any others to be issued till it is determined whether the first offered is good—And perhaps when the first is judged to be not good, the next offered will be as bad as the first—and Mr Sands is sensible that the mode of obtaining redress is so slow that it is in his power to starve us into a compliance before we can obtain it.

Sir, the general orders of the 20th and 27th of January last directing a mode of proceedure in case of any dispute about provisions, have not to my knowledge been revoked—and the quartermaster think them orders the only rule they have to attend to. I am, &c. &c.

Heman Swift


West Point 26th March 82


The enclosed is a copy of Mr sands orders to the Issuing Commissary at this Post. If they are suffered to take place, the Officers will in my opinion raise the Devil.

That it shall not be in the power of an Officer to purchase good Bread with his Cash, but be oblidged to take of Mr Fisher, Bread that is not fit for the Hogs—I think is cruel and ungenerous, and you may depend upon it, the Officers will not submit to it. I am sir with perfect regard & esteem Your obedient servant

John Paterson


Headquarters, Highlands, March 26. 1782.


When I had the honor to see you here, I represented to you that a great uneasiness had arisen on account of the contractors taking the kidney suet out of the beef, and what steps I had taken thereon; which you were pleased to approve, and advised me to call on them again for a determination of the dispute in the way prescribed by the contract, and that you would also write the contractors on the subject. I repeated my call for a decision of the matter in dispute, but with as little success as before. I also mentioned to you that I had received a complaint, that the contractors had refused to issue the stipulated quantity of salt when salt provisions are issued; although the contract makes no distinction of salt or fresh provisions. This I represented to the contractors and desired them not to deviate from the contract, as it would be a source of new disputes. To this I received an answer, that "the request to issue salt when salt provision is issued, is just as unreasonable as the officers to want the kidney fat to make candles, to save the expence of buying." Thus, sir, are matters circumstanced, and universal uneasiness prevails among the officers of the whole army. I conceived when I received a copy of the contract, that if any dispute arose, it would be immediately submitted to the decision prescribed, with which the army would be perfectly satisfied, whether it were given for or against them: but to feel themselves injured from day to day and week to week and every attempt to obtain redress prove abortive, is intolerable. If the officers are entitled to a certain number of rations, ought they not to receive them agreeable to the usual custom of armies? If they are to be allowed subsistence-money, ought they not to be treated in the same manner as the buyer who goes to market with his money in his hand? I always supposed that the intention of the public in supplying the army by contract, was partly oeconimical, and partly to render the supplies certain and agreeable to the army. I never will believe that the honorable the Congress, your honor or the honorable the superintendent of finance will countenance measures which cannot fail to wound the feelings of those who have endured every species of hardship for the cause of their country. I am this moment interrupted with a letter from colonel Swift who at present commands the Connecticut line. He wrote me yesterday—I take the liberty to inclose a copy of his letter. I immediately wrote mr Sands respecting the bread, and informed colonel Swift, that if any meat was offered which was tainted or unfit for use, the quartermasters must refuse to take it, and report must be made to me, that a survey may be appointed agreeable to the contract. In his letter of this day he observes, much time will elapse before such a determination can be had. It is true; but there is no mode of redress shorter in my power. Mr Sands resides at Fish-kill, twelve miles from this—some of the troops are obliged to go three and four miles to draw their provisions and carry them from on their backs, wearing out their shoes and clothes—if, on their arrival at the store, bad provisions are offered, the quarter master refuses them, reports to his officer, his officer to me, and I proceed to call upon mr Sands at Fish-kill to join in appointing a survey—two days elapses before this can be effected, and the troops are in the meantime starving. To remedy this evil, I agreed with mr Sands to vest power in the commanding officer at each post where there was an issuing store, in disputes in common cases, to appoint one person, he was to impower his issuer at such post to appoint another, and the two were to appoint a third, view the provisions offered to be issued, and report. To this mr Sands acceded; but has since revoked the power given to his commissaries. So that no proceedings can be had but between him and me, which are unavoidably subject to the delay above mentioned. For my own part, I never was more perplexed and embarrassed than in my present situation—Complaint upon the back of complaint are exhibited, and although convinced that they ought to be redressed, at least by a fair hearing and decision, it is not in my power to effect it—A situation truly disagreeable to me—I can only represent it, and most earnestly entreat that things may be put upon such a footing as to afford a certain remedy when necessary, that every just ground of uneasiness may be removed. I have the honor to be, With the greatest respect, Your most obedient servant

W. Heath


Head quarters, Highlands, March 27. 1782.


In mine of yesterday, I have mentioned the uneasiness and complaints which prevail in this army respecting the issue of provisions, which I hope will be redressed. It seems absolutely necessary that some shorter mode should be prescribed to settle any disputes that arise respecting the quantity or quality of provisions offered to be issued in common cases, than is expressed in the contract, which may be effected by one of the contractors being constantly with the army, or some person authorized by them immediately to join in the appointment of a survey when a dispute arises, or that other provisions of a quality not disputable be issued for the subsistence of the troops while a survey upon that which is disputed can be had. Without such expedient, the troops will inevitably suffer, as colonel Swift observes in his letter. I wish also to know whether the contractors are considered subject to martial law; or, if they are not whether their issuers are not. If neither are, in case orders are refused or disputed, what steps are to be taken? Your honor is sensible that all followers and retainers of an army are amenable to martial law. This has ever been thought necessary for the preservation of good order—And if the issuers to the contractors, who must always be with the army, are not subject to its regulations, will not confusion be consequent, as they will not be held to acknowledge or obey any military authority.

At present the troops experience great inconvenience and fatigue in getting their provisions. The Connecticutt line, five regiments, have to draw their provisions from West point, near three miles, and to cross the river. If the weather is wet, the bread is ruined. The 3d Massachusetts brigade draw either at the Continental-village or at West point; if at the former, it is three miles; if at West point, it is nearly as far and the river to be crossed. When it was agreed with mr Sands that there should be three issuing stores, it was expected that with the assistance of the brigade teams, the provisions would be obtained without great inconvenience; but it proves otherwise—Nearly half the men of the Connecticut line and 3d Massachusetts brigade are employed in getting provisions on their backs the distance before mentioned. This occasions a great fatigue to the troops, and a great wear of shoes and clothes. The 1st Massachusetts brigade which is [hutted] in the mountains back of West point at the distance of almost two miles, experience nearly the same difficulty. The contractors say it is unreasonable that they should be obliged to keep a store at every place where the troops are quartered—And to ease them as much as possible, three stores were agreed to, but the difficulties I have mentioned cannot be surmounted unless there is an issuing store at the Connecticut Line and each brigade while the troops remain detached [as at] present in winter quarters.

In every plan a system, practice and experience discover their advantages or inconveniences, and generally prove that amendments or alterations are necessary. I have the honor to be, With great respect, Your most obedient servant,

W. Heath

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